The Bookseller (Hugo Marston Series #1)by Mark Pryor
Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?
Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper. Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom/b>/i>
Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?
Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper. Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?
On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes. Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.
With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy's lair. Just as the killer intended.
-RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Stars
"Once you've had a bit, you can't wait for more."
"Pryor's steady and engrossing debut combines Sherlockian puzzle solving with Eric Ambler-like spy intrigue. With a cast of characters you want to know better and a storyline cloaked in World War II betrayals…the author winningly blends contemporary crime with historical topics."
-Library Journal Starred Review and Debut of the Month
"Stylish, suspenseful, and smart, Mark Pryor's The Bookseller conveys the reader expertly through a puzzle of missing Nazi hunters and drug deals. Fans of Alan Furst will find much to love. As strong and welcome as a hot coffee on a chilly Paris morning. Bibliophiles, Francophiles, and mystery addicts rejoice! The debut of Hugo Marston is one you don't want to miss."
-Steven Sidor, author of Pitch Dark
Read an Excerpt
THE BOOKSELLERThe First Hugo Marston Novel
By MARK PRYOR
SEVENTH STREET BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Mark Pryor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe largest of Notre Dame's bells tolled noon just as Hugo reached the end of the bridge, the brittle air seeming to hold on to the final clang longer than usual. He paused and looked across the busy Paris street into Café Panis. The yellow carriage lights above its windows beckoned as dim figures moved about inside, customers choosing tables and waiters flitting around like dancers.
Hot coffee was tempting, but this was the first day of a vacation Hugo didn't want, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, and he didn't much want to sit at a table by himself and think about that.
He squared his shoulders against the wind and turned right, leaving the café behind, heading west alongside the river. He glanced over the parapet as he walked, the growl of a motor launch floating up from below as the boat's propellers thrashed at the icy waters of the Seine. On cold days like this he wondered how long a man could survive in the river's oily waters, struggling against the deceptively strong current before succumbing to its frigid grip. It was a grim thought and one he quickly dismissed. After all, this was Paris; there was too much boat traffic, too many people like him admiring the river from its multitude of bridges, for a flailing man to go unnoticed for long.
Five minutes later he spotted a riverside bookstall, four green metal boxes bolted to the low wall and crammed with books, their colorful spines like the feathers of a bird fanned out on the shelves to attract passersby. The stall's owner was stooped over a box, the hem of his worn, gray coat brushing the pavement. A shoelace had come undone but the man ignored it, even as his fingers scrabbled through the postcards, inches away.
A barrage of shouting made the seller straighten and both men looked toward the voices, ringing out from a stall about fifty yards away, across the entrance to the Pont Neuf bridge. A man, squat and burly, poked a finger and yelled at the stall's owner, a crimson-faced woman who was bundled against the cold and determined to give as good as she got.
The old man shook his head and turned back to his box. Hugo coughed gently.
"Oui, monsieur?" The seller's voice was gruff, but when he looked up and saw Hugo he cracked a grin. "Ah, it's you. Where have you been, mon ami?"
"Salut, Max." Hugo slipped off a glove and took Max's proffered hand, warm despite the chill of the day. They spoke in French even though the old man knew English well enough when it suited—like when pretty American girls were shopping. "What's all the fuss about?" Hugo asked.
Max didn't respond and together they turned to watch. The woman was waving an arm as if telling the stocky man to leave her alone. The man's response shocked Hugo: he grabbed her wrist and twisted it hard enough to spin her around, and in the same movement kicked her legs out from under her. She dropped straight onto her knees and let out a plaintive wail as she threw her head back in pain. Hugo started forward but felt a strong hand holding him back.
"Non," Max said. "It's not for you. Une affaire domestique."
Hugo shook him off. "She needs help. Wait here."
"Non," Max said again, grabbing Hugo's arm with a grip the American could feel through his winter coat. "Let her be, Hugo. She doesn't want your help, believe me when I say that."
"Why not? Who the hell is he?" Hugo felt the tautness in his body and fought the desire to release it on the bully across the street. Something in Max's plea had resonated, the implication that by getting involved he could make things worse. "What's it about, Max?" he repeated.
Max held his eye for a long moment, then let go of Hugo's arm and looked away. The old man turned to his stall and picked up a book, then put on his glasses to read the cover.
Hugo turned to face him and saw that the left lens was missing. "Jesus, Max. Please tell me that guy didn't pay you a visit."
"Me? No." Max ran a sleeve under his bulbous and pockmarked nose, but didn't meet Hugo's eye. "Why would he?"
"You tell me." The quai was front and center for crazies, Hugo knew, drawn like mosquitoes to the water and tourists that flowed through the heart of the city. And the bouquinistes were easy and frequent targets.
"No reason. If you're worried about my glasses, I just dropped them, that's all." Max finally looked Hugo in the eye and the smile returned. "Yes, I'm getting old and clumsy, but I can still take care of myself. Anyway, your job is to keep your ambassador safe, protect your embassy, not worry about old men like me."
"I'm off duty, I can worry about whomever I want."
Again Max put a hand on Hugo's arm, this time reassuring. "I'm fine. Everything's fine."
"D'accord. If you say so." Hugo looked across the street to see the woman on her feet again, the man's arms flailing all around her, but not touching. Reluctantly, Hugo decided to leave it for now. He turned to the books on display. "This is how you take care of yourself, by fleecing tourists, oui? Do you have anything actually worth buying? I need a gift."
"I have key chains, postcards, and petit Eiffel Towers."
"It's for Christine."
"Ah." Max raised an eyebrow and waved a hand at his stall. "Then nothing I have out here."
"You keep the good stuff hidden, eh?" Hugo looked over his friend's shoulder and watched the burly man stalking down the quai, away from them, hands in his pockets. His victim, the bouquiniste, looked unsteady on her feet and Hugo saw her collapse into a canvas chair beside her stall, her face sinking into her hands. As Hugo watched, she reached into a plastic bag beside her and pulled out a clear, flask-sized bottle.
When he looked back, Max was watching him. "That, in her hand, is her biggest problem," the old man said. "But around here, it's best to mind your own business." He gestured toward his books. "So, are you buying or just wasting time? And by that, I mean mine."
Hugo turned his attention back to Max. "A gift, remember?"
"Bien, let me see." Max picked up a hardback, a book of black and white photographs of Hollywood stars from the 1920s to the 1970s. He showed Hugo the cover, a picture of a smiling Cary Grant, all teeth and slick hair. "Looks like you, mon ami."
Hugo had heard that before, from his wife, though he assumed she was just making fun. The caption said Grant was forty-one at the time of the picture, a year younger than Hugo. At six foot one inch, Grant was also an inch shorter than Hugo. But the men shared the same thick hair, though Hugo's was a lighter brown—light enough to camouflage a few recent strands of gray. His was thick hair that had never been touched by the globs of gel, or whatever those guys used. In the picture, Cary Grant's eyes glittered like jewels, a hard look Hugo could emulate when he needed to, but normally his eyes were a darker and warmer brown, more thoughtful than magnetic. The eyes of a watcher, not a player.
"Here." Max took the book back, then stooped and lifted a stack of newspapers off a battered leather briefcase. "I have some books in there. Help yourself."
Hugo knelt, unzipped the case, and peered in. "An Agatha Christie?"
"Oui," Max nodded. "A first edition, so très cher. A humble diplomat like you cannot afford it, I fear."
"I expect you're right, but I know someone who would love it."
Max grinned. "Someone who might love you for giving it, you mean."
"Maybe so." Hugo turned the novel over in his hands. He wasn't quite an expert on rare books but he knew as much as many of the bouquinistes who peddled their wares along the river. This one was a beauty, a 1935 first edition of Death in the Clouds, one of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. It was bound in full maroon Morocco leather, banded, and lettered in gilt with marbled endpapers, and it looked to Hugo like it had the original cloth backstrip. He spotted a short tear to the gutter of the final advertisement leaf, but overall he was impressed. It was clearly a fine copy. Hugo held it up. "How much?"
"For you, four hundred Euros."
"And for everyone else?"
"Three hundred, of course."
"In America we cheat strangers," Hugo said, "not our friends."
"You're not in America." Max's eyes twinkled. "You are a big man, Hugo, big enough to throw me in the river. I would not dare cheat you."
Hugo grunted and pulled another old book out of the bag. Covered in dark blue cloth, it exuded antiquity, and a quick check inside confirmed that: 1873. Gold lettering on a red panel on the spine read On War, then the word Clausewitz. "The first English translation?"
"Merde!" Max hurried over and snatched the book from Hugo's hand. "This one isn't for sale."
"Because." He clutched the book to his chest, then held up a hand in apology. "Je m'excuse, it's important. I just have to look at it more closely, before I decide."
"Let me look at it for you, be happy to advise," Hugo said, his tone intentionally light to mask his curiosity. It wasn't like his friend to be obscure, to guard his words.
"Non." Max held the book tight. "It's not about the book, its value. Look, if I decide to sell it, I'll hold it for you. D'accord?"
"Sure." Hugo nodded. "Thanks."
"Bon." Max smiled and pointed to the cowboy boots on Hugo's feet. "You are the only Texan who knows books, mon ami. But you haven't lived in France long enough to find a good pair of shoes?"
"No compliment without an insult. Sometimes I think you're an Englishman."
Max spat in disgust and muttered something unintelligible.
"Let's see," Hugo went on. "What else do you have?" He dug back into the case and pulled up a slim volume encased in a protective plastic envelope. Hugo inspected the book, which appeared to have its original paper cover. It was off-white, slightly pink perhaps, with a thin black line in the shape of a rectangle about an inch in from the edges, within which the book's information was presented. The name of the author and publisher were also in black type, but the title was in block letters that would once have been blood red.
"Une Saison En Enfer," Max said, looking over his shoulder. A Season in Hell. "By Arthur Rimbaud. That is not a first edition."
"No? The only collector's copy of this I've seen is an early edition of Zelda Fitzgerald's translation," Hugo said. He also remembered reading about Rimbaud on a train to Paris from London, a couple of years back. "Can I open the plastic?"
"Have I ever let you?"
"I know, I know. I can open it when I buy it. Can't blame a man for trying."
"If you say so," Max said. "The friend who gave it to me said it is in good shape, which you can see, but that it has some scribble in the front." Max waved a hand. "But he is almost blind, so maybe you'll be lucky and find the author's signature."
Hugo thought for a moment. It was an important book, in the literary world if not the reading one. An extended poem first published in 1873, it was as influenced by the author's choice of drug as it was by his passionate homosexuality. "Christine does have a thing for Oscar Wilde," he said. "This is close enough. How much?" Max looked at him and shrugged. "Hard to say. I haven't looked it over, it may be worth a lot or nothing."
"Very helpful. How about I give you five hundred Euros for both books?"
"How about you just pull out that gun and rob me, eh?"
"Then you tell me." Hugo smiled. "You negotiate like a fox, Max."
"A thousand for both. First you pay and then you thank me for the privilege of paying."
"I'm on vacation," Hugo said, digging into a pocket and pulling out his wallet. "I was thinking about a trip to the states, deliver these in person, but you're taking all my travel money. If I decide to go, I'll have to walk from the airport."
"Ah, but you will have something to read when you rest along the way."
"People don't read rare books, Max, you know that." Hugo handed the old man a wad of cash. "This is all I have on me. I'll bring you the rest later?"
"The ones who don't realize they are rare are the ones who read them." Max took the money but didn't count it. "We have banks in France, you know."
"Then if you can wait thirty minutes, I'll go find one."
Max spread his hands. "Where else would I be, but waiting for you?" He paused, eyeing Hugo. "You really think you're going to America?"
"Why not? The mad romantic dash isn't really my style, but nor is sitting on my ass for two weeks."
"You don't want time off from work?"
"Use it or lose it, they tell me. Not that I mind losing it, but the State Department is convinced my mental health will suffer if I go to work because I want to, not because I have to."
"You Americans." Max shook his head. "How you came to rule the world, I have no idea."
"We have big guns," Hugo said. "And we don't surrender every time the Germans invade."
"Touché," Max guffawed, then pointed again to Hugo's feet. "Alors, if you decide to go, bring me a pair of those cowboy boots, and next time I'll give you an even better deal. Size forty-one, s'il vous plait."
"Bien." Hugo looked at his watch. "I'll go rob a bank, make a phone call, and hopefully be back in less than an hour."
"You are welcome to pay me another time. To consider those books a gift, Monsieur Hugo, for now anyway. If I change my mind, I know where to find you."
"No, you might disappear to some beach somewhere, and I don't like owing people money. I'll be right back."
They shook hands and for the second time Hugo saw something in Max's eyes. But the old man looked quickly away, up at the clouds. "I think it will snow soon," Max said, his voice flat.
Hugo glanced at the sky, gray and heavy, and started back the way he'd come, books in hand. Thirty yards later he looked back at Max. The old man was shuffling along the quai toward his neighbor and, as he crossed the street, Max glanced over his shoulder as if someone might be following him, or watching.
The wind tugged at Hugo's hat, seeming to rise around him and shift direction, placing its cold hands on his back, propelling him along the quai. He walked slowly at first, then his footsteps quickened and he shivered as a chill settled around his neck, cold fingers spreading down his spine. He approached a middle-aged couple dressed in identical blue ski jackets, the man holding a camera and looking hopefully around him. On any other day Hugo would have stopped, offered to take the photo, but he strode past without catching their eye. Their need to capture a moment in time for their kids or grandkids was no match for the disquiet that crowded in on Hugo, the cold wind at his back, the leaden sky above, and a rising fear that he should have pressed Max harder, made sure that everything really was all right.
Excerpted from THE BOOKSELLER by MARK PRYOR Copyright © 2012 by Mark Pryor. Excerpted by permission of SEVENTH STREET BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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When I was first offered the chance to read and review this book, I naturally had to say yes. I mean, after all, it’s booksellers and I used to be one so how could I possibly resist? It didn’t hurt that the description was so enticing. Paris, kidnapping, murder, booksellers, spy-ish stuff—what more could I want? And now I’m happy to report that debut author Mark Pryor and The Bookseller have lived up to my hopes quite nicely. Hugo Marston has joined my list of heroes I love to read about, joining the likes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Patrick Lee’s Travis Chase. These are the guys who have all the brawn they need but they use their minds to win the day and that is so very appealing to me. Hugo also has a pretty nifty buddy in Tom Green. The two look into the puzzle of the missing and murdered booksellers with open minds and great aplomb and the pace is almost faster than you can keep up with. Possible perpetrators and motives are in abundance and, at the same time, the author gives us a feel for Paris that is so rich and full of history that, at times, I forgot the story takes place in contemporary times or, at least, within the last 75 years. Or so. You’ll just have to find out for yourself ;) Wonderful characters abound besides Hugo and Tom—in the very first pages, I came to like Max immeasurably—and the plot keeps on a-comin’. Throw in an intriguing journalist, the Parisian police, Nazi hunters, drug dealers and the hindrances that come with being attached to a US embassy and there’s hardly anything more you need. Oh, I mustn’t forget the feeling that the author gives that the reader is sitting right there in Paris soaking up all its beauty and history while all this is going on around you. What a lovely way to read a book! To me, three things are most evident when an author is really good. First is strong characters, second is a plot that grabs me and won’t let go, and third is a mastery of the English language. Mark Pryor has it all in his first novel and I can’t wait for his next Hugo Marston mystery.
Not a bad book, although when I pay $10+ for a book I would like it to have been proofread and edited -- especially when the author purports to love Paris [and implies that he knows it well] but can't spell or accent French words correctly. What are publishing houses doing these days with the galleys they send to their authors? Or do they even bother, knowing that the authors can't spell or use grammar to begin with? As another reviewer said, the "banter" between Hugo and Tom is juvenile and there seems to be a lot of filler-conversation ... as if Pryor was trying to sttrrreeeetttch his story to make it "worth" the $10+. He was not successful.
Having been to Paris and visited the "booksellers" area, I was hoping to relive some memories and read a good mystery but it wasn't to be. The plot was okay but the writing seemed almost juvenile at times. The "give and take" between the main character and his sidekick could have come out of a comic book. I was hoping for more.
I am normally a cozy mystery reader but I found this at my local library and it interested me. Hugo Marstan is a character immersed in security at the American Embassy in Paris. He and his ex-wife are avid readers and Hugo becomes friends with a road side bookseller (quite common in paris). While spending a morning trying to find a gift for his ex-wife to try to win her attention, Hugo buys a famous book of poems and a 1st edition Agatha Christie from bookseller friend Max. But Hugo also witnesses Max's kidnapping. In his search for his friend, Hugo meets an attractive French reporter and reconnects with an old cia buddy. The deaths of more booksellers, break-ins, drug lords and some alley way shoot outs are some highlights of this story. I have to say I found Hugo Marston a little boring in the beginning but the introduction of the reporter and his old friend brings more life to the story and the dialogue included bickering, some f-bombs, and some intelligent conversations involving conspiracy theories. Overall, this was very good!! I would recommend it to those cozy readers that want to root for a little tougher hero who wears Texas cowboy boots!
What a well written book! I look forward to the next one. I have recommended this book to all of my friends! Surely captures the very essence of Paris.
I really enjoyed this debut mystery. I love mysteries, and I love finding new authors. I'm always a little trepidatious when reading someone new, but I was definitely not disappointed with the first Hugo Marsten mystery. The Paris scenery is a fun twist--made me yearn to return to the city of love. The characters are well developed, the plot is tight with a couple of surprises, and the writing builds suspense. Can't wait for the next Hugo Marsten mystery!
This book was recommended to me by a friend who knows I enjoy the Paris setting. I also have been part of a mystery book group for over 15 years. I did enjoy the setting, but wish there was just a bit more Paris history or information about the "booksellers" (but then there is Google!) I felt the plot was nicely done and it did keep me reading. Liked the twists and turns. I liked Hugo and felt the other characters were well developed, but Tom needs a little work. He should disappear less and drink less. I do agree his interaction with Hugo was a bit immature but quite possibly that will change in future books. I read quite a few series writers who have had main characters for many many ears and they have certainly not remained the same over time. It is difficult for a first in a series writer to get characters and setting introduced as well as write a good mystery without rambling on and on. I believe this first time author did a good job. I do plan to read the second in the series to see how the characters develop and sense of place.
This is a great story and an easy read! I enjoyed getting to know the characters and I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.
Now and then, a mystery is what I want to read. This one did not disappoint. I recommend it to you and to my book club.
The Bookseller has a little bit of everything...a a handsome, but not too cliche' lead, a mystery with multiple layers, a brave and lovely reporter, and at all times, the scenery of Paris... Will read Pryor's other books.
This was a great mystery set in Paris near Notre Dame. I enjoyed it very much, having studied French. The booksellers are well-known in Paris. I look forward to reading more books in this series.
Looking forward to reading more Hugo Marston adventures; which is a good measure of a book--leave you wanting more.
For a first time writer, this was very good.
Hugo Marston has definitely become a great literary protagonist. I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns that came about in this mysterious Sherlockesque novel. Mark Pryor definitely gets a thumbs up for his debut, and I cannot wait to read the next Hugo Marston adventure.
Excellent plot and chacrers you care about . Can't wait for the next book.
It was an okay book for me. I don't think i would read another in this series.
VERDICT: Great mystery among the Parisian bouquinistes. Highly recommended for lovers of Paris, suspense, and books. If you have had the opportunity to visit Paris, I would bet one of your favorite spots is the row of bouquinistes along La Seine. Now imagine a mystery centered on these book stalls. How cool is that! With ample suspense and great characters, I could not pass the opportunity to present to you The Bookseller. Hugo Marston, a former member of the FBI, is now security chief at the US embassy in Paris. One day, he goes to meet Max, his favorite bouquiniste and friend, at his book stall along La Seine, to buy books for gifts. He ends up witnessing him being kidnapped and taken God knows where on the river. When he reports the fact to French police and detectives, they don’t show much interest and quickly consider the thing as a hoax or a mistake. But Hugo knows what he saw, so he asks help from his friend Tom, CIA, and Claudia, a journalist he just met, whose current reports focus on drug dealers in Paris. With his geeky friend Tom, Hugo discovers Max’s mysterious past as a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. So was his kidnapping related to some old revenge or to the expensive books he sold? Indeed, Hugo discovers that a book he just bought is worth big big bucks. Meeting shady characters, dirty cops, and discovering surprising connections, Hugo will try to unravel what’s going on. Will he be able to discover the truth in time to save Max and other bouquinistes also in danger? Or even his own skin, as he realizes he is being followed? I really enjoyed the suspense and the red herrings in this book, on the background of the Parisian bouquinistes. Chapter 6 provides fascinating elements of their history, when they started, how regulated their world is still today. I like Hugo’s personality, persevering, never ready to give up even when clearly in danger. And when Hugo meets Claudia, I started having all kinds of questions about her and her family. Who is she? What does she want? Is she really a help or a danger to Hugo? I flinched when I saw him falling seemingly so easily into the trap… The plot was very smart and the idea behind the book original, but who knows, could this be something really happening these days in Paris? I would actually not be surprised. Read the book and tell me what you think! There are also neat passages on books and on Paris
There are many twists and turns. The characters are strong and well matched. Hugo Marston (This is Book 1) and a friend he was teamed up with years before are seamless. I like the two of them in action together. The adventure takes place in Paris where he is a US Embassy security agent. The issues of getting the police to believe or listen to him about an abduction of his friend, the bookseller, is impossible. There are many other characters involved and there are some very interesting dilemmas.
Can not wait for his next book!